Coalition to Preserve LA lobbyists

Developers Spend Big Bucks on Lobbyists to Influence L.A. Politicians

In City Hall, Corruption, News by Patrick Range McDonald

A new city Ethics Commission report reveals that developers continue to shell out eye-popping cash for lobbyists to influence L.A. politicians and bureaucrats. In the first quarter of 2017, seven developers landed on the city’s Top 10 list for highest paying clients of lobbyists.

Since 2000, developers and other real estate power players have forked over at least $6.4 million in campaign contributions to L.A. politicians. Developers have also spent millions on lobbyists to woo City Council members and city agencies.

That king-sized cash helps developers gain insider access and win political favors, such as attaining zoning entitlements for luxury-housing mega-projects. With so much developer money in play at City Hall, residents are constantly put at a disadvantage when fighting luxury development that gentrifies neighborhoods, gridlocks streets and ruins neighborhood character.

According to an Ethics Commission report released earlier this month, the seven developers on the Top 10 list are Seaview Investors LLC ($267,337 spent on lobbyists), City Century LLC ($220,000), Lightstone ($185,273), Lowe Enterprises ($150,107), Monteverdi LLC ($119,829), Harridge Development Group ($118,906) and Trammell Crow Residential* ($111,264).

Seaview Investors and the other developers spent a whopping total of $1.17 million on politically connected lobbyists in the first quarter of 2017.

The Ethics Commission also reported that lobbying firms such as Urban Solutions, Englander Knabe and Allen and Manatt Phelps and Phillips, among others, raised thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for City Council members Curren Price Jr. (Council District 9), Gil Cedillo (CD 1), Paul Koretz (CD 5), Paul Krekorian (CD 2), Monica Rodriguez (CD 7) and Marqueece Harris-Dawson (CD 8).

Price and Harris-Dawson sit on the powerful Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, which considers zoning entitlements for luxury mega-projects. If PLUM gives the green light, it’s virtually guaranteed that the City Council and mayor will deliver the final approval.

So how do campaign contributions and lobbyist money directly impact residents and their neighborhoods?

In recent years, the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have engaged in what’s known as “spot zoning,” a troubling practice that’s part of City Hall’s pay-to-play culture.

Spot zoning occurs when L.A. politicians ignore existing zoning rules that protect neighborhoods from runaway luxury development and its negative impacts. A developer spends big bucks on campaign contributions and lobbyists, and the City Council and mayor then deliver entitlements such as a zone or height district change.

In Koreatown, for example, developer Michael Hakim needed a General Plan amendment and height district change to build a 27-story luxury-housing tower in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. Despite community resistance, the City Council and Garcetti gave Hakim the spot-zoning favors.

Longtime activist and attorney Grace Yoo noted a press conference, “If this project is built, it will have a domino effect on the rest of the area. All of these mom-and-pop apartment buildings will be swept up by developers. The working families living in them will be evicted, and the developers will put up luxury housing.”

To grease the wheels at City Hall, Hakim shelled out $3,900 in campaign contributions and $41,400 in lobbyist fees.

Koreatown activists have since sued the city of L.A. over Hakim’s luxury-housing mega-project.

Despite what L.A. politicians say, campaign cash and high-priced lobbyists get results for luxury-housing developers. The rest of us suffer the consequences.

Want to be heard on this issue? Contact Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated “Trammell Crow.” In fact, it’s “Trammell Crow Residential.” They are two different companies.